Review: The Haunting of Bly Manor is a lacklustre follow-up to Netflix's best horror

The Haunting of Hill House is some of the best horror media produced in the past decade, but unfortunately its successor stumbles while trying to step out of that long shadow. 

The Haunting Of Bly Manor trades cold-blooded, visceral fear for soapy melodrama, which bores far more often than it chills. 

Victoria Pedretti heads the cast, returning from season one to play a young governess hired to tutor a pair of wealthy orphans at their country estate. She arrives to find charming children hiding dark secrets and a house full of the restless dead.

If you're thinking, "well, this all sounds a little familiar", you'd be right. 

The story is loosely based on the granddaddy of all ghost stories, 1898's The Turning of the Screw, so a certain level of campiness is to be expected. 

Unfortunately, instead of subverting the cliches of a classic ghost story, Bly Manor often falls victim to them.  

In Hill House, we learned about the central characters through action; in Bly Manor, they just tell us exactly how they feel in overwritten speeches which would be right at home in the late 1800s but clunky and hard to stomach in 2020. 

The cast, for the most part, does an admirable job with a thin script and the returning actors from season one are still exceptional. Oliver Jackson-Cohen in particular gives another scorching performance.

It's the pure horror junkies who will be the most let down by this new season, as Bly Manor is more spooky than scary. There's plenty of slow tingles up your spine but nothing to stop your heart.

Of course, a slower pace and fewer jump scares aren't inherently bad, and as the season progresses it passes through some interesting territory, exploring memory, trauma and grief in creatively cinematic ways. 

However, here too Bly Manor doesn't stack up to its predecessor. Hill House tackled similar themes using a strong narrative structure built around a single family. Each episode focused on one member in turn, often covering some of the same events from a fresh perspective.

Bly Manor's cast is more sprawling and their connections less meaningful. There are a lot of stories unfolding in tandem but they never combine into a coherent whole. The ideas might be interesting, but the stories used to deliver them feel rote and contrived. 

Characters constantly make baffling choices and recite lines of dialogue that no actual human being would ever utter. This compounds the season's lack of scares because it's harder to feel afraid for people you don't particularly care about or believe in.

Bly Manor's missteps are made all the more frustrating by seeing where it shines. Series creator Mike Flanagan has an incredible eye for cinematography and an obvious passion for horror as a genre.

From a production standpoint, whether it's the sets or the costume design, every frame of this show has obviously had love and craft poured into it.

There's a lot to look at in Bly Manor, even a lot to admire - there's just not much to frighten you.